Social Security is an insurance program and the Social Security Administration (SSA) therefore requires you are insured before you, your dependents, or your survivors are able to receive benefits through:
- Social Security old age/retirement
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
While it is possible to receive benefits even when not fully insured, “fully insured status” guarantees that you and/or your dependents/survivors can receive benefits through either of the previously mentioned programs as long as you or they meet the other requirements for eligibility.
When the SSA determines if you are “insured” under its programs, it looks at your earnings/work history. Over the course of your employment, you pay Social Security taxes. Generally speaking, one quarter of work and taxes paid into the Social Security fund equals one work credit. You can earn up to four credits per year.
To achieve “fully insured status”, you must have between six and 40 work credits from your previous employment, and the number of credits needed depends on your age and the Social Security program for which you are applying.
To be fully insured you must have at least one work credit for each year between when you turn age 21 and when you:
- turn age 62, if you are being considered for retirement benefits
- become disabled, if you are applying for SSDI and/or your dependents are applying for benefits under your work record
- die, if your survivors are trying to get benefits under your work record
It is also important to note that any year in which you were considered disabled by the SSA does not count toward your work credit requirements for fully insured status.